Before you use your entire harvest of grapes, apples and
pears for wine, jelly or just plain eating . . . try
mashing some for vinegar. With very little time, effort and
expense you can have your own delicious, homemade variety
on salads every day of the year.
Vinegar seems to be one of those rare foolproof products
that anyone can make at home, if the original
ingredients are tart enough. We once tried to make our
supply of the condiment from apples that apparently were
too mild and, even though we let the bottled brew stand for
over two years, it never did have any "bite". Mild apples,
we found, will produce only a weak flavor that's difficult
to recognize as vinegar ... so be sure the fruit you use is
good and tart.
The least expensive apples to use for vinegar are those
that are bruised or that have dropped from the tree. No
matter if they have big, brown spots . . . that's the start
of the fermentation you want.
The next cheapest method of obtaining vinegar apples or
pears is by going to an orchard right at the end of harvest
and picking the hard-to-get-at leftovers. Last year we
obtained lovely apples this way for only a dollar a bushel.
By the way, although tart apples and pears — or a
combination of the two — will certainly make good
vinegar, you needn't be restricted to such traditional
"cider vinegar" fruits. Our favorite version of the sour
liquid seasoning is made from a base of Concord grapes.
It's different from and much more flavorful than either
store-bought cider or wine vinegar.
Once you have your apples, pears or whatever, pick the
fruit over (to make sure it's clean) and chop it up
somehow. Grapes are simple — just mash them —
but pears and apples present more difficulty. Sure, you can
grind them . . . but if you're working with several
bushels, that takes a lot of time and energy. My husband,
Richard, simply puts the tree fruit in a sturdy wooden
container and smashes it with a two-by-four.
Allow the mashed fruit to ferment in a clean crockery,
glass or wooden container . . . NEVER metal. Be sure to
leave a lot of headroom (25% or so) for expansion and keep
an eye on the pulp as it ferments.
The container should be covered during this fermentation
with a towel or piece of old sheet — tied on tightly
with string — to let in the air needed by the process
while keeping the gnats and flies out.
Set the brew in a room — like a basement — with
a moderate temperature and let it age for four to six
months. Stir and taste the "workings" occasionally and
— when the flavor pleases you — strain out the
juice and store it in a cool, dark place in glass jugs. If
you leave the lids somewhat loose, it'll keep for years.
If the finished product is too weak, strengthen it with
some "boughten" as you use it. If the vinegar is too
strong, thin it with water as you make salads or whatever.
We use our homemade brew for ALL our salads . . . and we
eat a lot of them! One simple dressing that really shows
off the flavor of this made-at-home product is a mixture of
equal parts vinegar, oil and honey. For dress-up, we add
I don't can with my vinegar, though, for fear its acidity
may not be right (store vinegar has a controlled acid
content that always assures uniform results) . . . I'd hate
to ruin a batch of pickles or something.
Still and all, homemade vinegar is so delicious and simple
to make that we have it on hand at all times here at
Fertile Hills Farm. Once you've tried it, chances are you
will too . . . it may very well be the simplest and easiest
good eating that you can bottle for your shelf of